The peer and the puppet, p.1
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.1

           B. B. Reid
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The Peer and the Puppet


  Copyright © 2018 B.B. Reid

  The Peer and the Puppet by B.B. Reid

  All rights reserved.

  Chief Editor: Rogena Mitchell-Jones of RMJ Manuscript Service LLC

  Co-editor: Colleen Snibson of Colleen Snibson Editing

  Both of Two Red Pens Editing www.tworedpens.com

  Cover Design by Amanda Simpson of Pixel Mischief Design

  Interior Design/Formatting by Champagne Book Design

  All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the author or publisher constitutes unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use the material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained from the author.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead, are coincidental.

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Also by B.B. Reid

  Note

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Epilogue

  Acknowledgments

  Contact the Author

  About B.B. Reid

  Mama, is this weird?

  Broken Love Series

  Fear Me

  Fear You

  Fear Us

  Breaking Love

  Fearless

  Stolen Duet

  The Bandit

  The Knight

  When Rivals Play

  The Peer and the Puppet

  The Moth and the Flame

  The Peer and the Puppet is a standalone romance, however, the series is one story. The plot introduced in this installment will continue in the following novels. No cliffhanger.

  THE HARD BODY BETWEEN MY thighs came to life, and I reveled in the feeling. The vibration from the purring engine could rock me to sleep better than any lullaby. Closing my eyes, the peeling walls of the repair shop fell away, and I was on the circuit surrounded by stands filled with spectators screaming my name as I raced for the finish line.

  “How’s she holding, girl?”

  Snatched from my fantasy by the sound of my boss’ gravelly voice, I cooed, “Like a newborn baby.”

  Gruff grunted and chuckled, making the sixty-year-old’s impressive beer gut jiggle, and his sharp blue eyes lighten as he stroked his gray, bushy beard. He was also the only person I knew who possibly loved bikes more than I did. He definitely knew more—I’d give him that.

  “Think she needs another run?”

  I nodded while concealing my growing excitement. Even though I was confident the owner wouldn’t have any problems, I never risked sloppy work. If bikes were plants, I’d have a green thumb.

  Gruff took me under his wing seven years ago once he got tired of chasing me away. When all the other kids were forging friendships, I was sneaking into Russell’s Repairs. Sometimes, I’d simply watch the guys work, but on the more daring days, I’d give in to my urge to run my fingers over cold, hard metal. The first time Gruff caught me, he threw me out onto the pavement. He said the shop was no place for a kid.

  Having no sense of self-preservation, I snuck back inside the next afternoon and almost every one after that until one rainy afternoon, I found a new sign banning profanity. No one ran me off that day. Tim, one of the workers, had even brought out a chair from the office, which was much more comfortable than crouching behind metal shelves filled with used parts. It wasn’t long before Jasper—Gruff’s only other employee—taught my first lesson. Gruff, whose real name was Robert Russell, had offered me nothing but an occasional grunt or grimace. His rough demeanor was actually how he got the nickname. Weeks later, when Rosalyn discovered where I was spending my free time, I learned the grump was really a big ole sweetheart. I was a latchkey kid without a sibling or friend, so Gruff had offered to keep me out of trouble during the hours she worked as a hotel maid. Her reluctance was embarrassingly obvious, but to my delight, she agreed. It would have sucked to sneak around again.

  Gruff quickly became sort of an understudy to the father I would never know. Jasper and Tim also undertook brotherly roles until a swanky new automotive shop opened up a few towns over, and they moved on to greener pastures. Cherry’s three thousand souls was a mere drop in the bucket. Most of the locals had to travel to Rochford, a small city thirty minutes away, for business and work—Rosalyn included.

  “Well, hop to it, kid. I’ll make the call.”

  Gruff ambled into his office, and I grinned as I swung my leg over the bike and retrieved my gloves and helmet. I got my license a few months after I turned sixteen, but I didn’t have a bike of my own yet, so I relished any opportunity to ride. I was eleven when I finally convinced Gruff to teach me how to ride—off the record, of course. Widowed, and with his only son living a couple hours away, it was hard prying him away from his shop. It was a good thing I made him promise when I became his employee that he’d teach me. I thought it was a fair bargain—he needed the help, and I needed the lessons. He still even paid me a small wage that I saved for a bike and used to enter bidding wars for unique and sometimes rare helmets. So far, I’d collected twelve, a couple signed by professional racers, and others signed and sold by legendary undergrounds.

  I quickly shoved on my worn leather gloves and pulled on one of my newer additions—Number Ten, a black, old-school, full face with a yellow outline and detachable eye shield and visor.

  “I’m off, old man.”

  My boot was poised to kick back the stand of the Ducati 1199 Panigale when Gruff stuck his head from his office. He had the cordless plastered to his ear with a stern expression.

  “No joyriding, Four.” My smile was challenging, making the wrinkles on his forehead deepen. “I mean it.”

  “Up one way and back again, Gruff. I promise.”

  I passed through town, lazily eyeing the people spilling in and out of our few shops. Cherry was a frictionless place. The small Virginian town offered little, so anyone in residence was either a native or running away from something. Rosalyn rarely spoke of her past, but I learned a long time ago which party we fell in.

  I reached the edge of town and noticed the local soap maker vigorously scrubbing her shop window. She whipped her plump frame around as
I parked at the curb in front of her shop. Her distress was palpable as she clutched the soaked sponge to her ample chest.

  Her fear didn’t wane until I lifted my helmet to take a closer look at what had upset the sweet woman. Spray painted on the glass was three-quarters of a red X with writing underneath.

  I am not led.

  My mind raced as I read it a second and third time. “Who did this?”

  The vandalism couldn’t have been personal. Patty was a kind, middle-aged widower, who made the best scented soaps and spoke only in soft tones, even when angry. We met in the frozen food section of the town’s only grocer when she scolded me for speeding through the parking lot. She quickly departed before I could apologize, so when I saw her watering the plants in her shop window, I paid a visit. She’d graciously accepted my apology by offering me one of her soaps: coconut water mixed with açaí berry, melon, jasmine petals, and vanilla. Now it’s the only soap I’ll use.

  “Some out-of-towners rode through here last night causing trouble. The sheriff’s had his hands full tracking them down.”

  This was the part where I would say something consoling, but I was pretty creeped out myself. I am not led? It sounded like some cult bullshit. “I’m sure they’re gone by now,” I assured her, though it sounded more like a question.

  “I hope so.” She pointed her soapy sponge at me. “You be careful, hear?”

  “I will.” I brought the Ducati back to life, shoved my helmet on, and headed for the open road. Late that night, I was scrubbing my dinner dishes clean after another night of ‘grilled cheese for one’ when my phone chimed. Anticipation didn’t allow me to dry my hands before I hurriedly flipped open my phone.

  It’s a go. Curtis Pond Rd. Usual time.

  The crowd parted, and I coasted through on the back of the orange, black, and white Ducati. No one ever asked questions, so I never had to explain why I showed up on a different bike every race. Borrowing bikes I helped to fix in Gruff’s shop without his knowledge was risky business, but so far, my luck held.

  Spotting Mickey’s brown tattooed skin and shoulder-length dreads as he talked to another rider on the sideline, I stopped at the marked line and lifted my helmet. The smell of decay from the swamp on the other side of the trees hit me instantly. A tense Mickey swaggered over as fast as his sagging jeans would allow.

  “I should have given your spot away. You know,” he said with sarcasm dripping from every syllable, “to someone who actually bids to race and can show up on time.”

  I just barely kept from rolling my eyes. Mickey had a violent track record, but he didn’t scare me. I was too valuable. I pretended not to notice him checking me out as I laughed and leaned forward. Worn black and yellow leather creaked as I rested my forearms on the handlebars. “I had algebra homework, and we both know you’d lose way more than you’d make if you cut me out.” I could always count on Mickey’s bet in my favor because he could always count on me to win.

  Fourteen races and I was still undefeated.

  Riders spend thousands of dollars on an advantage only to be showed up by a sixteen-year-old girl who proved more than once that it’s the rider who wins races.

  Mickey didn’t crack a smile like he usually did when I sassed him. Instead, he glanced to my left, averting my attention. My competition waited astride a silver Ninja ZX-10R. It was faster, so I’d have to be clever.

  As I admired the bike, I peeped at the bold black X painted on the side. Unlike the one vandalizing Patty’s window, this one had a fox and crow’s head inside the top and bottom angle, a nineteen and eighty-seven inside the left and right, and a ribbon that read, I am not led across the middle. The very same was tattooed on the rider’s hair-dusted hand. A short, stocky body covered in black leather was all I could make out since he’d kept his helmet on. He didn’t bother to return the favor of checking out his competition, but the small crowd standing on the left side of the clearing had no such reservations. My palms began to sweat under their scrutiny. I was used to animosity, but this felt different. There was promise in their eyes if I won—a threat not to show up their friend. Despite my unease, I smirked at the lot earning a few bared teeth.

  “As much as I love your fire, Four, be careful with this one, alright? He and those fools he’s with don’t sit right with me. My crew feels the same way.” It was then I noticed most of the usual crowd waited on the right shoulder of the back road away from the riffraff.

  “Then why let him race?”

  He shrugged powerful shoulders. “Because his money’s green either way.”

  My thighs tensed around the Ducati, and my stomach rolled as I studied Mickey. “Who’d you bet on?”

  Light brown eyes laughed, and it was his turn to smirk. “You.”

  I felt myself relax knowing I’d still have a friend if I crossed the finish line first. Mickey was always the one left defusing the uproar when money was lost. I felt bad for putting him in the position, but he was also the reason it was still safe for me to return.

  “Alright, snowflake, you know the rules. No bullshit.”

  “Told you not to call me that!” I shouted at his back. “Racial slurs go both ways. You wouldn’t like it if I called you chocolate thunder!”

  He laughed, flashing his gold grill, and waved me off as he joined his boys on the sideline. They began to yell encouragement as they rubbed their hands together in anticipation of the money I’d make them if I won.

  Some redhead strutted by in heels and shorts so far up her crack that her firm ass hung from the hem. She lifted two red flags in the air once she stood centered between us.

  There wasn’t much left to say or do now that bets had been placed. No one wanted to risk someone coming along and calling the cops. I shoved my helmet on and said a silent prayer. I usually pictured myself crossing the finishing line to get my head in the game, but instead, I was drawn back to the small crowd of thirty or so. Behind them were a couple of bikes and a few cars and trucks lined up on the shoulder. Just as I was ready to flip my visor down, a man dressed in faded blue jeans and an even more faded gray T-shirt stepped into my line of vision. He had the same X tattooed on the side of his neck. Once he had my attention, he lifted his shirt just enough for my heart to skip a beat as I locked eyes on the gun tucked into his waist. While I wasn’t sure if cult members carried guns, I was pretty certain these guys weren’t religious zealots. My next breath shuddered out of me at the clear warning.

  Don’t win.

  I could feel the wind whipping against the sliver of exposed skin on my nape and the rider on my right closing in as we approached the first turn. I wasn’t worried about losing any more than I was worried about winning. What the man wielding the gun didn’t know was I didn’t race for the money. I raced for the addiction. He should have known better. Someone daring enough to chase a high at one hundred and eight miles per hour wouldn’t be too concerned with self-preservation. I wouldn’t be sticking around to collect my cut of the winnings anyway. After my third win, Mickey and I agreed it was best if I kept riding once I crossed the finish line. It also didn’t give anyone a chance to follow me home. I didn’t worry about Mickey cheating me, either. He may have been a thug, but he wasn’t stupid enough to double-cross the person fattening his pockets.

  We took the first turn neck and neck after I slowed just enough not to lose control. Once we’d straightened, I retook the lead, though I didn’t have as much gain on him as before. His bike was faster, but it seemed the lion had no courage. The world blurred as I accelerated until he was no longer on my tail, but desperation had him accelerating too, and we began to battle for the lead. I played it cool, already thinking about the second turn, which was narrow and twice as sharp. Taking the corner on the inside at high speed would be tantamount to suicide. The rider would be forced to take up the rear in order to safely execute the turn without losing enough speed to cost him the race. The advantage wouldn’t be much, but it was the only chance I had.

  With only a couple
hundred feet left between the turn and us, the rider finally pulled back. Smiling hard and already feeling the victory in my veins, I prepared to corner the bike. No sooner had I adjusted my weight than a man stepped from a grove of black willow, and the flash of stainless steel in the moonlight caught my eye. The leering face of the gunman didn’t belong to the man at the starting line. This one was sent to make certain I didn’t win…or finish at all. My euphoria vanished as I jerked the bike across the invisible centerline and into the right lane just as we took the turn.

  I was airborne only for a moment.

  The cry that ravaged my throat as I crashed and tumbled down the unpaved road, the crunch of metal as the bike skidded off the road, and my opponent accelerating down the straightaway was mostly drowned by my earplugs and helmet.

  Somehow, the silence made me feel all the more helpless.

  Finally, I lost momentum as the edge of the road met grass but not before the bone in my leg gave with a sickening crack against a rock the size of my head, ripping one last scream from me. I was aware of each breath I took, fearing the one that would be my last. I didn’t think anyone could survive that turn.

  I ripped off my helmet just as a rock was kicked toward me, and dirt clouded the air. Edging away, I screamed in frustration and pain when the broken bone in my leg protested.

  Maybe my death would be quick.

  Sorrow crept inside and mingled amongst pain and fear. I never thought I’d go out in a blaze of glory—I was just another fish trapped in a small pond—but I never expected to be killed over a lousy three grand. The only fight I had left was to scream and hope someone heard. I took a deep breath, readying my vocal chords, only to cough and choke when dust found its way into my throat.

  Scuffed brown boots stopped near my head. Not wanting his face to be the last I saw, I stared at the stars. “Lose or die. I thought we made it clear?”

  “Couldn’t lose to a pussy,” I croaked. Begging was pointless, and consciousness was a tide drifting further and further away. Fuck it. Maybe Rosalyn would finally have peace.

 
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